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Genband Builds a Gateway to WebRTC

Sarah Thomas
4/29/2013
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There are a number of Web giants, enterprises and browser makers excited about the opportunities with WebRTC. Now telecom service providers are asking, should they share in the enthusiasm?

Ken Workun, the director of solutions marketing at networking vendor Genband, thinks so. "We are strongly in the camp of, this is a technology that if the carriers can embrace it and adopt it and roll it out quickly, it can allow them to compete in new markets where today they don’t compete," he says.

So, that's one vote of confidence, albeit one that comes with a lot of the traditional caveats.

WebRTCis a browser-based technology that embeds real-time communications capabilities, including audio, video and data, in any app or Web-based service. Workun says the open-source standard has the potential to do to telephony what the Web has done to other modes of communication like streaming video. Like other modes of communication, however, it is something that could easily be done over the top of carrier networks, hence his urgency warning.

The technology is still in its early stages. It's soon to be implemented by companies like Mozilla in the next release of its Firefox browser and Google in Chrome, but it's just now getting on the radar of a lot of operators, with the exception of early adopters like Telefonica.

For its part, Genband is working to help them get ahead of the emerging telephony standard with the launch of SpiDR, a WebRTC gateway, unveiled Tuesday at its annual conference in Orlando.

SpiDR sits at the network edge to bridge the traditional operator network with the Web, letting carriers build Web services on top of it. The gateway essentially turns any Web page into a telephone that the network can dialogue with as it would a phone.

Some examples that Workun offers up include an embedded app for a hospital that lets patients transition home with click-to-call nurses or doctor and a (tightly controlled) social networking aspects to create relationships with other patients going through the same thing; a URL for any company to offer click-to-call for users from their phone's browser without incurring charges when they are abroad; or even a completely video-based call center.

Genband provides carriers with RESTful APIs that they can, if they so choose, expose to Web developers to create such embedded apps. He also suggests that WebRTC can enable new business models, such as selling ads based on user knowledge and peer influence, creating a social graph out of their phone book or giving cord-cutters another option.

"There is a long way to go before the carriers change a lot of their mentality of measuring how long you're on the phone and charging you for how long you are on it," Workun admits. "The price you can charge per minute is becoming commoditized … But, who you are calling is still a big part of where you can drive your money."

For all the potential, WebRTC is not without its fair share of challenges. First, getting browsers to support the technology is slow moving. Firefox might, but Apple currently doesn't. Second, while it's good for call origination, receiving a call would require the recipient to have their browser up and the session alive. On a mobile phone, especially, that would be impractical and drain the battery.

But it is still early days for WebRTC, and it's one technology operators still have the opportunity to get ahead of -- if they move fast.

"For a standard as young as it is – only discussed the last 18 months, it's coming remarkably fast," Workun says.

Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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